I’m nearing the end of my current Work-in-Progress, and I thought now might be a good time to share a sneak peak of what’s coming. This novel is written under my pseudonym, Leah Dempster, so it’s a little bit racier than my D.S. Williams novels. Keep in mind that this is the first draft – there’s likely to be lots of changes before publishing 😉
“There’s a new girl in town.”
Jeb McMasters looked up from his laptop, eyeing his brother suspiciously. “Now, why the hell would that be interesting to me?” he growled.
Grey’s blue eyes twinkled with mischief as he regarded his oh-so-serious older brother. He had a feeling this news would be enough to shake up Jeb’s ordered and safe little world, a world he’d isolated himself in for nearly six months, ever since he returned from rehab. Battered and broken, Jeb had closed in on himself, a situation exacerbated when his fiancée broke off their engagement, just weeks after his return. Hell, he hadn’t even been transferred from the hospital to the rehab facility before Crystal stuck the knife in, announcing she wouldn’t marry a cripple.
Grey’s blood still boiled whenever he thought about how badly she’d hurt Jeb. He’d put on a brave front, a tough exterior for the outside world, but Grey knew he was hurting.
“You gonna tell me why you interrupted me? I’ve got to get back to work,” Jeb announced. He made a show of ignoring his brother, turning his attention back to the computer screen.
Grey strolled further into the room, his gaze flicking over the neat desk, the paperwork lined up with strategic precision. He looked down at his older brother, ignoring the chilly stare from eyes as blue as his own. He wanted to be close enough to enjoy the reaction his news was about to create. “Mikayla Odell is back in Rock Ridge Hollow. Word is, she’s here to stay.”
Grey had the satisfaction of seeing the color drain from Jeb’s face.
Jeb was sitting out on the porch, drinking a beer and watching the night sky. Usually, he found some sense of peace in these quiet hours of the early evening. Cicadas chirruped their evening song, and the horses could be heard out in the pasture, whinnying softly to one another as they made their way from one tasty patch of grass to the next.
Tonight, Jeb was finding peace elusive.
Mikayla Odell. Hell. He hadn’t heard that name in… what? It must be ten years. She was the last woman he and—
Jeb lifted the beer to his lips, taking a long swig and mentally shaking himself. No point dredging up the past. It was all water under the bridge now. Mikayla was part of his history – ancient history. He’d lived a lifetime since, his choices bringing him to this point. Unwillingly, his gaze was drawn to his denim-clad legs. He preferred this time of the day, when his useless legs were gradually hidden by the darkening shadows. For what must have been the thousandth time since his return from Kabul eight months ago, he focused on his thighs… his calves… his ankles… his toes. Desperate to feel something – anything, which might suggest he would regain the use of his legs.
Nothing. There was nothing. Not a twinge, not a spasm – nothing that resembled what the doctors had said would happen if he was going to get sensation back. The memory of Crystal breaking up with him, the way she’d avoided his gaze – even now, after seven long months it cut him to the core.
“Need another beer?” Grey pushed open the screen door, two longnecks dangling between his fingers.
Jeb nodded, draining the last of his beer and placing the empty bottle down beside the wheelchair.
Grey handed him a beer before he leaned up against the porch. They both sipped their drinks, Jeb focused on the blaze of stars appearing across the horizon, Grey watching the flickering television screen visible through the living room window.
“Anything in particular need doing tomorrow?” Grey questioned.
“We need to get ahold of Newt Thornton, have a chat about borrowing his stallion. Those mares will be ready in another couple of weeks, and you know what Newt’s like about negotiating deals.”
Grey grinned and nodded. “I’m guessing you’re going to handle that phone call?”
Jeb nodded, slugging back a mouthful of beer. “About the only useful thing I can do nowadays.” He tried, and failed, to hide the bitterness in his tone.
Grey straightened up, placing his bottle on the railing. “Y’know, I’ve still got the details for those saddles and the—”
Jeb shook his head. “I don’t wanna talk about it.”
Grey inhaled sharply, letting the air whoosh out slowly between his lips. “Jeb, don’t you think it’s time to start whittling away at that chip on your shoulder?”
Jeb remained stubbornly silent. Yeah, he was struggling with what he’d lost, but hell, who wouldn’t? He’d had all the therapy he could stomach, lost hope of living his life like a normal man. He was surviving from day to day, doing what he could, trying not to think about what he couldn’t.
Except sometimes, he couldn’t stop the yearning, the desire to regain what he’d lost. Hell, he’d love nothing better than to get up into the saddle, get up on Gandry’s back and ride across the land as he’d used to, before he’d gone overseas with the army. Before the IED had taken the lives of four of his team, and the use of his legs.
Shit. He’d been lucky, all things considered, and he tried to remember that. He’d come home. He was sitting on his ranch in Montana, enjoying a beer at the end of the day. He hadn’t died out there in that hot, dry hellhole. He was alive.
His attention was drawn back to Grey, who had leaned forward and was waving his hand in front of Jeb’s face. “What?” he snapped.
“You were miles away, man,” Grey remarked.
“I was tuning out your lecture,” Jeb muttered. “Unless you wanna talk about what needs doing tomorrow, you might as well go watch TV.”
Grey drained his beer, taking his time before he responded. Jeb didn’t like it – usually it meant Grey had something on his mind, something he wanted to talk about, but he was hesitating because he didn’t know how Jeb would react.
Jeb couldn’t blame him. He knew he’d been surly and difficult to live with since he’d come home, but it didn’t make him any more comfortable, waiting for Grey to break the protracted silence. “Spit it out,” he finally demanded. “You’ve obviously got something on your mind.”
“Mikayla. I’m thinkin’ about heading into town to see her. Thought I’d be neighborly, welcome her back to Rock Ridge.”
Jeb was stunned, taking nearly a full minute to respond. When he did, he couldn’t keep disbelief from coloring his response. “You’re kidding, right? You can’t possibly think that’s a good idea?”
Grey shrugged, seeming unaffected by Jeb’s derision. “A decade’s a long time, Jeb.”
“Don’t you remember? She left, Grey! Skipped town like a bat out of hell,” Jeb protested angrily. “What makes you think she’ll have anything to say to you? To me?”
“Aren’t you at least curious?” Grey asked, tapping his thumb against his empty beer bottle. “Wouldn’t you like to see her again, discover what brings her home?”
Jeb unlocked the brake on his wheelchair, knocking the empty beer bottle over in his haste, but he was too agitated to worry about it as it rolled noisily across the wooden porch. “No, Grey, I don’t want to see her, and I’m not fucking interested in why she’s come back. Mikayla Odell means nothing to me. Goodnight.” Jeb yanked open the screen door, guiding his wheelchair inside in a smooth, well-practiced maneuver and the screen door slammed soundly behind him.